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President Donald Trump said in Puerto Rico on Tuesday that responding to the devastation of Hurricane Maria had thrown the federal budget "out of whack," but he praised officials and first responders for preventing the storm from becoming a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina.
Trump visited the island two weeks after Maria destroyed the island's entire infrastructure system, leaving nearly 3.5 million residents without power, and tens of thousands without clean water.
"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you threw our budget a little out of whack. But that's fine," Trump said at a briefing shortly after he arrived on the island to assess the damage and recovery efforts.
The president's joke was met with stone-faced looks from the assembled officials. In the two weeks since the island was hit, Trump has repeatedly focused attention on Puerto Rico's long-term financial woes and criticized its officials in an attempt to deflect criticism of his administration's flat-footed response to the disaster.
At times, Trump seemed to approach the briefing as an opportunity to laud his administration's disaster response efforts.
"Your governor, who I didn't know, has been tremendously supportive" of the Trump administration's response, offering "the highest praise," Trump said.
"I just want to tell you, right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics. He didn't play it at all," Trump said of the U.S. territory's Democratic governor, Ricardo Rossello. The statement also came off as a shot at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin-Cruz, who has emerged as an outspoken critic of the federal government's response to the hurricane.
Yulin-Cruz attended the briefing after being invited by the White House, and she shook the president's hand.
'Every death is a horror'
"Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina, and you look at what happened here," Trump said, before asking an official sitting nearby, "what is your death count?"
The official said 16 deaths had been confirmed.
"Sixteen people, verified; 16 versus in the thousands," Trump continued. "You can be very proud all of your people, all of our people, 16 versus literally thousands of people, you can be very proud."
Trump is scheduled to visit with first responders and U.S. military personnel later in the day.